Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Red & Purple Interview: Linfield's Daryl Agpalsa

Welcome back to our latest addition of the ongoing “Red and Purple” interview series. I had the honor to talk to former Linfield All-American Offensive Guard and former Linfield Coach, Daryl Agpalsa. Daryl was a consensus All-American selection his senior year (2002) and was a member of one of Linfield’s greatest and most beloved teams in 2002.

Any Linfield’er will enjoy hearing about the origins of the “Leave No Doubt” motto, insight on the 2002 season, Daryl’s transition into the coaching ranks and about moving on from Linfield as the new offensive line coach at Hamline University (Mn.)

Daryl is truly a humble and fantastic person. It was a pleasure to trade emails with this Linfield great.


(Wildcat11) Let’s go all the way back to the end of the 2001 season. A young ‘Cats squad started 1-2 and then rattled off 6 straight wins including a great come back vs Menlo, a wild punt return that pulled out the win over Whitworth, and then a solid win at Willamette that push the ‘Cats to 7-2 and gave Linfield a piece of the NWC title. I can remember the team buzzing after the Willamette game in regards to “who are we going to face in the playoffs?”, however, when the bracket came out the next day, Linfield was left out while PLU and Whitworth were in. Can you still remember where you were when you found out and can you recall how the team felt about the snub?

(Daryl Agpalsa) It’s funny, because I can remember that morning like it was yesterday. The team was obviously riding a “high” after wheeling of six wins in a row and a share of the NWC crown. None of us had the mindset that our season was over; we all just wanted to know “who was next?” I woke up early that morning and headed to Carney’s (Linfield AD, Scott Carnahan) office with some teammates because he was going to receive a call from the NCAA about the bracket. I remember standing in his office with the Coach and some other players and coaches waiting in anticipation while Carney took the call. He had a brief conversation with them, hung up, sighed, and said “You guy’s had a great season, but it’s over, we didn’t make it in.” The conversation progressed and we learned that Whitworth was to meet PLU in the first round and we were left out. We were shocked.

Obviously our immediate reaction as a team was a sense of disappointment and bitterness. We felt as a team, that we just hit our stride late in the season and we could play with anyone. Unfortunately, we just weren’t given the opportunity to do so. This served the returning players added motivation and desire to never experience that feeling again.

(WC11) Obviously the memory of 2001’s snub was in the front of everyone’s mind going into the spring and summer. When did the mantra of the 2002’s team of “Leave No Doubt” come about? Do you know who came up with it? Why did the seniors go with it, and how quickly did the team take to it?

(DA) Don’t know if everyone knows this or not, but the theme “Leave No Doubt” came through a conversation between Coach Hire and Linfield great Jody Tyrell. They spoke soon after the season ended and Jody congratulated Coach Hire on a great season, but apologized about not making it to the playoffs. He told Coach Hire, “Well, I guess they need to leave no doubt next year.” Coach Hire asked what he meant by that and he went on to say, “The team needs to leave no doubt and prove to the selection committee and the country that Linfield not only belonged in the playoffs, but with the top team’s in the country.” Coach Hire couldn’t have agreed with him more.

Coach Hire told me about this slogan, and I along with a large group of talented seniors quickly took to the saying. From there the slogan trickled to the underclassman and the slogan, “Leave No Doubt” snowballed. We referenced it to just about everything that off-season. Leave No Doubt in workouts, Leave No Doubt in practice, Leave No Doubt in the classroom, and most importantly Leave No Doubt that we could compete with just about anyone.

(WC11) To me it felt like “Leave No Doubt” was a line drawn in the sand by the players. It was pretty risky in that if the team didn’t pull out a win early in the season vs an excellent SOU team “Leave No Doubt” could have rang pretty hollow. How big was pulling out that win in double OT vs Southern Oregon and do you feel like that was a spring board to the remainder of the season?

(DA) I really don’t know how big the win was in terms of them being an NAIA team that shouldn’t count against us in Pool B play, but the game was a lot of fun. It’s not very often teams get to experience playoff caliber football in week two of the season! They gave us a pretty good whipping the year before at their house, I remember York and I not being able to play and forcing Coach Hire to play a lot of lineman out of position. It was a bitter loss, since we were told it influenced the committee in leaving us out of the 2001 playoffs. It was because of these factors that the Southern Oregon game served as a sense of motivation, for most of the team, heading into next season.

The win really solidified our thoughts as a team knowing the only team that could beat us was ourselves, and we knew if we prepared well and executed the regular season should take care of itself.

(WC11) Speaking of the 2002 regular season, after the SOU game, I don’t think Linfield fans saw a team run through a schedule like that in a very long time. The game up at PLU the following week was tight but that 2002 team just physically punished teams during the season. Of course winning is the objective but did that group take a little extra pride in trying to, as 2002 senior Defensive End Chad Barrett put it “destroy teams”?

(DA) It was a very passionate team that was encompassed of about 20 plus seniors. One of the very few teams that had the mindset, if we executed, we didn’t have to worry about the score it would take care of itself. That team had pretty lofty goals and wanted to start a trend that would hopefully carry over into the playoffs. I truly believe the 2002 team wanted to be remembered and stand as the new standard of excellence for the Wildcat teams to come. We honestly had one goal, to win a national championship.

(WC11) All phases of that team were great but to me what stood out the most was the offensive line play. You guys executed so well but it seemed like that group had a bit of a mean streak in it. Can you tell us what made that offensive line so darn good?

(DA) Two things, experience and great coaching. People need to remember that all of us, beside Jeff (York), were part of the same recruiting class. Most of us had started for a number of years together and we had great chemistry with one another. You know we had four linemen, excluding myself, and two tight ends that loved to finish people! What a luxury that doesn’t come around very often! I remember everyone being anxious about receiving our game evaluation on Monday to see who had the most RBI’s (pancakes) and knockdowns so they could have bragging rights for the rest of the week! It probably didn’t hurt that we had three running backs that could have started anywhere in the nation!

As a group we knew what was expected of us on every play and what adjustments we need to make, to the defense’s we saw, to be successful. That’s a testament to our leader and O-line coach, Doug Hire. He was our backbone and did a phenomenal job preaching preparation and execution. He worked tirelessly for us and the program making sure that we were always put in a position to be successful. In my humble opinion, he’s probably one of the best kept secrets in college football.

(WC11) Let’s talk about the ’02 post-season. The '02 senior group had back-to-back years of disappointment with the Central playoff game from 2000 and the playoff snub of 2001. Just how good did it feel playing at the ‘Catdome and unloading on the Wartburg Knight (Iowa) 52-15 during the ‘Cats first game of that playoffs? In some ways was that an explosion of two years of frustrations or just another game?

(DA) I would be lying if I said it was just another game. Our coach’s preached, “It’s just another game” and “take one game at a time” mentality, but as you said all of our seniors were part of the ’00 and ’01 disappointments. We were a confident group going into that game. We were battled tested and knew how to respond to adversity, that’s why we went to Linfield, to play in big games. For the two weeks we spent preparing for the Knights all we heard about was their defense. They played very physical and fast, and gave up two rushing touchdowns all season. We viewed it as a great challenge for our front seven to see how we competed with the best. As a team, we were excited about having the opportunity the play on a national stage and take a step forward as a program at the Division III level.

(WC11) I hate to bring up a bad memory but the following week was the West Region Finals vs Saint John’s (Mn.) and it turned out to be the end of the 2002 season in a bitter 21-14 loss. The Johnnies did execute their game plan very well and the ‘Cats did catch some untimely bad breaks. I’m sure there are things you feel the ‘Cats could have done better that game but looking back now is it satisfying knowing that 2002 team reestablished the ‘Cats on the Division III landscape as a yearly national contender?

(DA) I believe for the rest of my days, that game will be a tough pill to swallow. No one likes to lose, but there is a big difference between a better team beating you and you beating yourself. I take nothing away from them; they executed and played solid football. Unfortunately, we struggled executing and made several untimely mistakes. Falling short of our goals hurts, but for better or worse, that’s the beauty of football. We always have an opportunity to learn something from the game, and take those life lessons with us. Next question.

(WC11) Understand why you would want to move on. While football is a team game I would like to touch on your individual honors after the 2002 season. You were named 1st team All-American with four different organizations (AFCA, d3football.com, H-P, and Football Gazette). That’s a pretty incredible feather in your cap and still has to feel great. I know you’re a pretty humble guy but I want you to put yourself over a little bit, brag about yourself, and tell us what made you such a damn good offensive guard.

(DA) I really don’t mind bragging at all to be honest with you. If I had to put my finger on it, I can list 8 reasons why I was such an amazing guard and why I was recognized as a consensus All-American. Erik Moen, Jeff York, Josh Dill, Justin Buckner, Luke Buchheit, Marcus Ward, Doug Hire, and Tramaine Payne were the eight reasons. I know everyone has their own opinion, but being named an All American, as an O lineman, is the consummate team award to me. Any true lineman knows they cannot excel without great players and coaches around them. I was so lucky to be apart of a group of brothers that trusted each other, knew what each other was thinking, and would run through walls for one another. That’s what made me the best, because WE were.

(WC11) So after you wrapped up your playing career you jumped into coaching right away in assisting Coach Hire and the offensive line from 2003-2006. Tell us about your experience in transitioning from a player to coach and what were some of the big lessons you learned from being on the Linfield staff.

(DA) The transition from player to coach was a very eye opening experience. I was able to see the amount of work and dedication that our coaches put into planning each and every week. As a player, I was amazed at the amount of work we did practicing and preparing for teams. Yet, I had no idea our coaches spent three to four times the amount of time working and preparing!! It’s truly amazing the sacrifices they make in their lives to make Linfield football a priority. That staff will never be out worked.

I’ve said this before, but I’ve been blessed to have a great mentor. Coach Hire has taught me so much about the game and the qualities you need in order to be successful. The work ethic you need to have, great attention to detail, coaching the little things to be technically sound, and being personable are just a few things he has showed me. The longer I’m in this business; I realize that not everyone was as fortunate as I was to learn from a great coach. I count my blessings every day and try to pay it forward the best way I know how.

(WC11) Alright I have to ask about 2004. At what point did you know this was a team that had the goods to win it all? Can you recall your Salem,Va experience and how did it feel as a coach and Linfield Wildcat to win it all?

(DA) Well, going in to the ’04 season I knew that we had a ton of talent coming back, and a team that had been battled tested in the playoffs from the years past. The first two games that year were going to indicated how good we were going to be! We played Western Oregon for the first time in a long time and played UW-Stevens Point in Wisconsin for the first time ever. Our team went out there and rolled against a solid WOU team and came from behind to beat a strong Pointers squad. From then on, the team just started to go through the competition. I realized that team had the goods to win it all when 40 point wins were becoming a habit. They were truly a special group. Salem, Va. was everything I hoped it would be, besides the field sucking! You know for so long you dream about being there and having the opportunity to play for a championship, and to be lucky enough be part of it was truly a humbling experience. A one word summary on how it felt to win it all, sweet!

(WC11) Let’s move on to after the 2006 season. Any good young coach has aspirations to make their mark and move up the coaching ladder and after 4 seasons as a coach at Linfield an opportunity came open when former Linfield Wildcat and now head coach of the Hamline Pipers, Jim Good, contacted you about their offensive line coaching job. Did you know right away that Hamline was the job for you or was it a little nerve wracking leaving Linfield to a different program in a different part of the country? Can you tell us what your experience was in taking the Hamline job?

(DA) When Jim contacted me about the Hamline position I was excited about the opportunity to pursue my dream of coaching, although it was not an easy decision at all to be honest with you. Especially when he wanted to know in a week if I would drop everything and move out there! Picking up and moving is never easy, especially since I have grown roots in Oregon. There were a lot of issues that came along with taking the job, leaving my friends and family, leaving my comfort zone, and let’s face it moving to MINNESOTA. The weather’s just a little bit different here! I remember having many conversations with T Payne and Jimmy in T’s Jacuzzi, sorting out the pros and cons. I talked with as many people as I could to get their perspective and opinion on everything, it really helped. What it really came down to is never living a life of regret and wondering “what if”. Change is a scary place, but it always finds a way to work itself out.

(WC11) The MIAC is a fine football conference and we all know SJU has been the top dog for some time. Bethel has won back to back conference titles, Concordia has been to the playoffs in recent years, and St. Olaf’s has been a contender too. What do you see as the feature for Hamline football over the next 3-4 years?

(DA) That was the intriguing thing about heading to Minnesota, the opportunity to compete in the MIAC and against playoff caliber teams on a week to week basis. I’m not one that looks too far in the future and make predictions. One of the best things that I have learned from Linfield is to take it “one game at a time, one day at a time”, and that’s the same approach I’ve taken here at Hamline. I preach to our players on getting better each and everyday, whether on or off the field; to be a better teammate, a better student, and most importantly a character individual. If we take care of the little things, everything else should take care of itself.

(WC11) Last question. “Leave No Doubt” the Linfield faithful still love that slogan and love that 2002 team. What was it about that team that still holds such a strong hold on the Wildcat faithful where that team has become borderline iconic?

(DA) I really can only say what I know and the ’02 team was a team with no ego’s or individuals, kids with great character, and players who believed and played their hearts out for one another. It’s was a blessing to be apart of, and I have taken so many wonderful memories and friendships with me. To me, that team truly stood for everything “Linfield football” stands for. Other than that, you should ask the Linfield faithful what it is, I haven’t the faintest idea.

Previous Red and Purple Interviews:
Pacific AD: Ken Schumann: Football Back at Pacific?
Linfield SID: Kelly Bird
SOU former Star Running Back: Dusty McGrorty
Linfield Stand-Out Defensive End: Kelly Bertrand
Central Dutch's Miracle/Mishap in The Mud: Reid Evans

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